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There is some angst among right-minded Americans over the near-sighted tweet from Vice President Kamala Harris concerning the 3-day Memorial Day Weekend we currently enjoy. Whereas many Americans wrongfully view the Memorial Day Weekend as the May cousin of September’s Labor Day Weekend (with each Monday signifying the mileposts for the summer season), it is abhorrent that the person “…a heartbeat away from the presidency…” would signal a tone-deafness to the meaning behind our celebration of the last Monday of May.
And yet, she is hardly alone. Millions of Americans sadly view this weekend the same way: a convenient break at the end of May before the school year ends and summer season kicks off.
It would behoove so many of us to remember that we are not actually festive on Memorial Day. We are reflective. We do not celebrate some of the worst possible incidents in millions of American families’ lives, even as we celebrate the rights and privileges their collective agony afford us to enjoy. We appreciate them.
Many images will remind us of the people who made the ultimate sacrifice throughout the course of American history. Some images will focus solely on the Greatest Generation, a group of Americans that beat down the Nazi threat that approached our shores and wreaked destruction across the globe. That war alone cost us over 400,000 lives. Other stories will remind us of the recent sacrifices of our young people over the past few decades, from the soul-wrenching times of the Vietnam War to the ongoing impacts of the battles in the Middle East since 1991.
And, of course, these numbers only account for deaths that our nation incurred fighting foreign enemies. When considering the oath to “…defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…,” the numbers swell over the course of the lifetime of the Great Experiment.
Through all of this, it is easy for us to overlook the meaning behind the sacrifices. It is intellectually lazy for us to merely state that they died “defending America” or “advancing American values” or “securing freedom.” These phrases can be haughty sentiments and hollow compliments if we are not intentional as to their meaning.
This Memorial Day, it makes sense for us to actively recall the items that Americans gave their lives for.
Among others, they died to ensure that their families and our loved ones could vote freely with confidence, protection, and equality during each election cycle. They died to ensure that parents were empowered to do their absolute best for their children at each phase of life, from protections in the womb to pursuits within the education system. They died to ensure that processes could develop more perfectly so that the criminal justice system was fair, unbiased, and rooted in facts and law. They died to ensure that hard work was not punished because of skin color, religious background, status in society, or prejudices pushed by jaded politicians.
These Americans made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that freedom of speech continued as a constitutional right that was both revered and right-minded to keep our republic heading down a path of strengthening through debate and away from tactics that could destroy us. These Americans made a common ultimate sacrifice – regardless of the color of the skin that was torn but through the common blood that was shed — to ensure that we continued to see each other as fellow Americans through the many differences that a nation of millions is bound to contain. These Americans made the ultimate sacrifice through their self-determinative decision to defend our nation’s values to ensure that our individual self-determination was a foundation for life in each corner of our country – and that the pursuit of it never stops for those who do not have it now due to legacy woes domestically or unavoidable challenges personally.
These Americans did not die merely for the idea of America. These Americans died to defend, secure, or obtain very tangible things within America. Immigrants and former slaves who were shamefully discriminated against used their grit to gain respect and equality for their families and loved ones – and some made the ultimate sacrifice on that trek towards equity. Women who were viewed as weaker and incapable in battle used their minds and might to change the course of American history for those who may never know their names. Those discriminated against in today’s times – in stark contrast to our secular Constitution – continue to fight on the front lines, knowing that their names might be added to the list of those who left behind a lifestyle and eternally gained a legacy because of their love of country.
Because of their specific love of us – and specific people among us.
Because of their love of specific things that we enjoy.
This Memorial Day, we must not wrap our salute to these fallen Americans in an all-encompassing remembrance. We should see the fallen in each specific thing we have in our lives as citizens of this nation and leaders in this world. Just as each one of the fallen is a specific person whose family cried a river of tears over the tragic loss of their loved one, each aspect of America that they died for is a specific why that prompted them to have courage past fear, honor past apprehension, and American Exceptionalism past civic complacency.